Monday, December 1, 2008


I loved The King of Kong. When I first saw it, I practically cheered at the ending. That was back in February. Since then, as a result of seeing that film, I have
  • started blogging
  • found out that the largest classic arcade in the world is in my own backyard
  • gotten to know a lot of genuinely cool people from both the classic arcade gaming and documentary crowds
  • gotten back into classic arcade gaming myself
  • finally realized my dream of having a home arcade machine of my own!
  • discovered the world of geekumentaries (I knew about a few, like Spellbound and Word Wars, but that's the tip of the iceberg)
  • actually considered doing my own documentary
That's no small set of accomplishments for a mere film.

It's obvious from the start that The King of Kong tells a biased story. The more I looked into it, though, the more I realized that the facts had not just been skewed, they were omitted and twisted where it made for a stronger story. If you want to find out how deep the rabbit hole goes, take Jason Scott's red pill, but the movie won't be the same for you afterwards. At first, I brushed it off by saying, "I just approach it as a semi-fictional story and enjoy the ride." I'm finding it harder and harder to do that now, the more I learn.

I did in fact tie it for #1 in my Top 10 Geekumentaries list (next to TILT, which is beginning to look like the clear winner). Two things are now troubling me about this.
  1. Some people featured in the film feel slandered and inaccurately portrayed. A couple weekends back, I met many of them and got to spend some time getting to know them, and they all seemed like really nice people. People I'd be honored to consider friends. The inaccuracies bother them to varying degrees, but how can I endorse a movie that brings any degree of undeserved grief to people I've grown to respect? Even if it is through the very fact that I SAW this movie that we are friends?

  2. My geekumentary obsession has got me to thinking about making my own documentary. I was reading a book Friday night about making documentaries, and the author was adamant that one honor two simple "kindergarten-style" rules: Tell the truth, and don't hurt people. It seems that The King of Kong broke both those rules.
Only if it hadn't, if it hadn't grabbed my attention and won my heart with it's great yet inaccurate story, I wouldn't be reading that book, or writing this entry, and life wouldn't be nearly as interesting as it is right now.


Jason Scott said...

Like realizing that your love of animals is going to come into direct conflict with the benefits of medical science, the fact is that documentaries are by their very nature even more human endeavors in terms of flaws and potential for abuse than writing, or photos. Something about seeing people say things and move around jettisons almost all the skepticism that we're not seeing something "real". Granted, a person can make a lot of steps to ensure they are telling the truth, but it is also easy to turn things around the other way and never really be caught.

There are some who say that "Well, you can never REALLY be accurate with documentary filmmaking, so why even try", and obviously someone with sense won't buy into that. That's just defeatism and throws out the good parts of documentaries with the bad.

I think, honestly, one step that can be done is what I did: find flaws in a documentary and then point out these flaws where possible in a document, and people who are truly enchanted or engulfed in the tale being told will go look things up and perhaps temper their opinion a bit.

But just because I happen to think King of Kong fails to tell an accurate and truthful tale doesn't mean you can't enjoy it - you just need to realize you're watching a work of fiction.

Cynic said...

Intersting post. As it pertains to King of Kong: the director clearly edited his footage to tell one particular story--a story that didn't align with the truth of the real events; however, I truly doubt that Billy Mitchell is much less of an ass than his own comments make him out to be in the film. I many cases, it isn't the context of his comments that make him look like an idiot and a pompous ass, it's just the substance of the comments itself. Granted, editing can make those comments seem even worse by placing them into a negative context, but if he's not as stuck on himself and his records as he appears in the film then I'd honestly be surprised. And as for a casual meeting with him, I'm sure he can be nice and polite with new people when needed, but if one were to spend enough time with him, I'd bet his true colors would start to show through. For me, his character and actions are the only ones that make any difference to the movie as a whole. The other people's odd behavior and personalities as portrayed in the movie are just flavor and wouldn't be enough to sway my opinion of them in a real, face-to-face meeting.

As for documentaries as a whole, I think documentarians need to be truthful with their audience. If they edit the content to the point that the story told in their film doesn't reflect reality, then label it as fiction. But to remain a "documentary," the director and editor should keep the truth of the matter in mind as much as possible when cutting the final film together...otherwise, there isn't much point in doing a "documentary."